Steamboat Springs

Steamboat Springs, CO – August, 2017  Everyone we know personally in the state of Florida survived Irma with no serious damage. There is widespread flooding in Bonita Springs which is heartbreaking. Nearby Naples took the brunt of Irma’s winds. They don’t expect to have power restored for another week so I imagine it is pretty miserable down there without AC and for many no water or sewer.

Our trailer park in Bonita Springs had only a few trailers blown over but for the most part is OK.   Our daughter’s trailer is safe and sound and will wait for us to arrive this fall when we can sell it. So I am grateful to get back to my tales of summer fun.

We had spent most of the month of July in Utah and at the beginning of August we crossed in to the northwest corner of Colorado. We didn’t have any solid destination or direction planned for several weeks so we set our sights on Steamboat Springs. It sounded like a neat place with lots of fun things to do.

We stayed at Eagle Soaring RV Park seven miles west of town. They were booked for the weekend so we got a spot for Wednesday and Thursday. The sites were full hookup pull thrus and were $48 per night.

We headed to town to see the sights after getting set up on Wednesday. The Yampa River runs all along the western edge of town. They have an awesome trail system called the Yampa River Core Trail which runs 7.5 miles alongside the river. We stopped and walked a couple miles on it.

We enjoyed the walk which included a couple bridges so it zigzagged back and forth across the river. We stopped at the Steamboat Springs Art Council’s Gallery located in their historic 1908 train depot. And we discovered a half dozen of the town’s 150 hot springs.

You could smell the area’s stinkiest spring, Sulphur Spring, a good ways down the path.

This is Lake Spring, a pond created a long time ago to capture several springs in one basin and in more recent history turned in to a park.

This spring flowed directly into the river.

We also took a walk in Steamboat’s downtown shopping district. There were lots of interesting buildings, fun shops, and people. It was terribly crowded.

What we learned most about the town that first afternoon was that it was not a fun place to drive. There was one major road through town and several construction zones. The town was very congested and basically not our scene.  The fun things we thought we might do there sorta lost their luster when coupled with the traffic we would have to fight to do them.

The next morning we headed out early to check out the mountains to the east of town. The Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest was full of possible boondock sites. We weren’t finding very good intel on the area and wanted to scout it out before hauling the 5th wheel up there.

We stopped at the national forest’s office in town right as they were opening. Each office offers a very detailed map for their forest. Many list every forest road in their division and tell you exactly where you are and are not allowed to camp.

Unfortunately you do have to stop in each individual office to get it. Since the forests are so large, they do not always have offices in a convenient location to our travels. It would be nice if they stocked maps for other nearby forests but that is not the case.

So we drove into the mountains with our map and started checking out the side roads for boondocking sites. We drove down a dozen roads and checked out two national forest campgrounds that were first come first serve. You just never know what you might find.

When we scouted our last site near Flaming Gorge there were tons of existing campsites but most of the roads to them were atrocious. In this area there were miles of very good roads but few existing campsites. It’s frowned upon to make a new campsite and the few places this might have been an option would have required a weed eater at least.

We finally found a feasible option on one of the last roads we checked out, Forest Road 296. There were a half dozen existing sites within sight of the highway. The road was a little rough in the beginning but became impossible after the first quarter mile. We would have liked some vegetation between us and the road but at least we would be some distance off it.

We pulled the trailer up early the next morning and started enjoying our new surroundings. About 5 miles up the highway was Dumont Lake and its campground. We would have liked to have stayed there but there were few suitable sites and all were taken. But it was an easy drive.

It was a very picturesque mountain lake.

Jim wouldn’t pose so I had to.

The wildflowers were extreme.

The mornings in the mountains were quite chilly, around 40 degrees if I remember correctly. So we spent some time driving down the long gravel roads and taking short walks. As soon as the sun was fully up it would warm up quickly though and by mid-morning we were usually shedding several layers.

I was surprised how little wildlife we actually saw. There were plenty of deer of course. Jim swears he saw a big moose in a deep ravine beside the highway early one morning while I was driving. There was no easy place to stop but we kept an eye out the whole weekend and never saw another.

We hiked one morning near that area but didn’t see any sign of moose. It was a beautiful hike nonetheless.

There were signs all over the place that said there were sheep herds in the area and to be cautious of sheepdogs. I guess they are vicious if they feel you are threatening their flock. One morning we saw three sheep some distance away when we turned on to our camp’s road.

We stopped the truck so I could get the telephoto lens out and take some pictures. Instead of running away, they started cautiously running to us. They must equate trucks with being fed.

Before I knew it they were right in front of the truck and allowed me to get pretty darn close to them. It appeared to be a momma and baby brother and sister.

They were so darned cute. When I advanced a bit too close they closed ranks to protect baby sister so I returned to the truck. Later from camp I heard dogs barking and saw more of their flock up the road. I hope they were reunited.

On our last day on the mountain I was determined to hike to the high point in the area, Rabbit Ears Pass. Jim’s feet weren’t up to the task so he dropped me at the trailhead and headed to nearby Dumont Lake to do some fishing.

I wasn’t worried about making this hike alone because I knew it was a fairly well travelled path. I didn’t expect quite as many fellow hikers as there were though. I guess I arrived at prime after Sunday brunch or post church hiking time.

I started the hike surrounded by hikers but soon pulled ahead of the pack. I like to attack a hard trail and get as much distance in as possible while I am still energized. I generally push as hard as I can to reach the end then I take it easy on the return trip. My destination:

Once I was away from the throngs I passed a dozen more hikers but generally had some solitude.

It was 3 miles to the pass and 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The last half mile was the hardest with much of the rise in elevation saved for the finale. The hardest part for me was dealing with the thin air at around 10,000 feet. I pressed on though primarily because I didn’t want all those people catching up to me and hearing how hard I was breathing! LOL

I finally reached the top and paused to catch my breath and take some pics. The rabbit ears themselves were not terribly interesting and too rotten to climb.

But the views were amazing.

Once I had rested a bit I started the relatively easy walk back at a leisurely pace. Jim got bored fishing the crowded lake. He said he almost caught a kayak and a paddleboarder. He hiked a mile and a half out to meet me.

We loved the few days we spent in these mountains. The weather was on the chilly side with lows under 40 and highs of 75. That meant we could enjoy campfires in the middle of the afternoon and wear our much neglected long sleeve wardrobe.

Our site was fairly quiet. There was one spot, about a football field away, that was always occupied by a parade of people. Otherwise we had few neighbors. Our first night, a Friday, a party did erupt just behind us. It started well after our bedtime so we assume it was kids, but we were surprised that we recognized all their music and that it was good. So we really didn’t mind so much!

Chillin’ at Altitude

Duchesne County, UT – July, 2017 Choosing a destination, or even a direction, can be difficult when you have too many options. We hadn’t made any solid plans for the month of July past visiting the North Rim and Bryce Canyon. We finally made up our mind where to go and we headed north.

We first stopped in Richfield, Utah along I-70 because we needed a few things. We stayed at the only campground in town, a KOA, for which we paid almost $50 per night. Other than plenty of retail options there was nothing special about the town of Richfield. It was a flat space between barren hills.

After getting the things we needed we were anxious to move on. We had plenty of time so there was no reason to make any long or multiday drives. Even though our next destination was only 150 miles away I found a campground halfway there and booked it for 2 nights.

Huntington State Park was a man-made oasis in the desert. It was surrounded by fields that, when irrigated, appeared to produce crops to feed livestock. Further away were some brown mountains. The lake appeared clean and the locals certainly enjoyed its waters.

We had a site that backed up to the lake, sorta. The water level was way down so the shore was some distance away. It was a nice site though with a good view and reasonably priced at $25 for water and electric.

My favorite thing about this park was the 3 mile walking path all the way around it. It was relatively cool if you hit the trail early enough in the morning. The only downside was that sometimes you would get a whiff of a truly awful smell. Jim said it was the fertilizer they were spraying on their fields. It was good motivation to pick up the pace through those sections. Other than that it made for a very pleasant walk each morning with bees buzzing, bunnies hopping across the path, and fish jumping in the lake.

We weren’t at all sorry to leave as we were really excited to get to our next stop. Avintaquin Campground in the Ashley National Forrest is at 9,000 foot elevation which sounded like heaven. So even though there was limited information available about it, we took a chance and booked 3 nights. At $5 per night it would help offset some of our more costly campsites as well. It had absolutely no services; no electricity, no dump, no water.

We obviously expected a climb to get there and had no concerns about our 1 ton truck being able to handle the roads. We got stuck behind a semi with tandem trailers that was crawling up the mountain between 8 and 12 miles per hour for the entire four mile section of 8% grade. We then pulled onto the road to the campground which the few reviews we found said was a good road and discovered it was the real challenge. It had somehow escaped me that it was a whole mile of gravel to the camp.

It was barely more than a one lane road with hardly any place to pull off if you were unfortunate enough to meet someone. We also still had several hundred feet to climb and most of that took place on one short hill. It was the only hill Jim has ever seriously worried about this truck pulling the camper up. He had to switch to low 4 wheel-drive, all the time praying no one topped the hill in front of him.

We made it though and gratefully pulled into the campground and found a place to pull over. Jim let the truck cool down, and did a little chilling himself. And I walked the loop our site was located on and made sure it was safe to drive.

I wasn’t crazy about how tight the loop road was but I was confident we could make it. Thankfully our site, #5, was at an angle that would make backing in pretty easy. It also turned out to be the levelest of the ones in that loop. Here we are all snug in our site.

I don’t think Jim will agree to come back again but our 3 day stay has been wonderful. There is one site not too far behind us but thankfully noone has used it during our stay. There is a barbed wire fence about 40 feet from our front door and I will admit the neighbors on that side do sometimes look at us a little weird.

Storm clouds formed each afternoon. Twice they circled all around and we only got a sprinkle. But one afternoon the thunder was calamitous and the clouds were pretty ominous looking.

It rained for a good while and we even got some pea sized hail. In general the weather was awesome though, with highs in the mid 70’s and lows around 50.

The same road we drove to the campground on continues past the camp for 13 miles. It is called Reservation Ridge Road and it is a scenic backway. There are plenty of boondocking sites along the way. If we did return here we would likely choose one of them rather than stay in the campground.

We decided to follow this road on a Friday morning and see what there was to see. There were lots of views of the surrounding mountains but most of those views were only visible through a stand of pines. Rarely did we get an unobstructed view like this one of a valley and mountains to the north.

We finally found an overlook to the South. The spot of blue smack dab in the middle is a little mountain lake.

Since the road was curvy and just one lane we were grateful we didn’t meet another vehicle. We did have to put up with some local traffic. Like this guy who wasn’t taking any bull. He refused to move for a minute but finally yielded the right of way.

The entire trip was between 9,000 foot elevation and just under 10,000. I loved the wildflowers in every color.

The only part of the trip I didn’t enjoy was at the very end of the road where it made a long decent while clinging to the side of a very tall hill. The scenic backway then ended abruptly in the middle of nowhere. We planned to take a different forest road back to a highway and return by way of the blacktop.

We turned down that road and were confronted with barely a tunnel through the trees and a mud pit the length of a football field. Nope, it was back the way we’d come. I didn’t mind at all except for having to climb up the side of that hill. Here was my view straight down the hill from the passenger seat.

I know it doesn’t look that bad but as we climbed higher those aspens got farther and farther away. We had an uneventful trip back and enjoyed seeing the views in reverse. We saw pheasants on the way in and again on the way back. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pheasant in the wild before.

I had hoped we’d see an elk or, better yet, a bear, both of which are supposed to be common in the area. We probably saw a thousand chipmunks. They were constantly zipping across the road in front of us.

The next day we drove down from the mountain to the town of Price. We got a few groceries, filled the truck’s tank, and picked up lunch. We then chose a spot on the map we thought would be good for a picnic.

We drove 3 miles of road that wasn’t much better than the scenic backway from the day before except it was paved and they had widened the road on the corners so that it was almost 2 lanes. That was good because there were alot of corners. It was just one switchback after another.

At the end was a parking lot with a few picnic tables overlooking Price Canyon. We had the place to ourselves and thoroughly enjoyed our lunch with a view.

On Sunday morning we reluctantly came down off our cool mountain and faced the heat of summer again.

Making Ourselves at Home

South Carolina – April, 2016 We are enjoying our spring visit to South Carolina immensely. We have been here since mid-March and plan to continue to stay in the vicinity through much of May. We have chosen to idle here for good reason.

Thanks to the generosity of my father, we own a little piece of property just off I-95. He and my mother visited the area almost 30 years ago and liked it so much they bought a half acre thinking it would make a great jumping off point for visits to the east coast. When I told my father several years ago that Jim and I planned to retire soon and RV full time, he offered to give me the lot they had never gotten around to using.

It really is in an ideal location. It is about an hour from some great destinations; Charleston, Savannah, and several beaches. So we plan to make it a nice place to park for a few nights or a few months. We plan to stay 10 weeks this visit because there is so much we want to do but also because we are enjoying a brief rest after traveling 30,000 miles last year. We’ve been staying 4-5 days a week on the property and then going to places within a few hours’ drive for a couple days most weeks.

We visited the property for the first time in 2014 and found out that the state of SC would put us in a driveway approach for free. We took care of the paperwork during that brief visit and when we visited South Carolina last fall we finally got to see the approach for ourselves.

Since the approach allowed us to drive across the ditch on to our property we were able to boondock in front of the tree line (left in the above pic). During that visit we had the electric company supply power to the property and started clearing the drive back into the trees.

When we arrived here this spring we were anxious to continue clearing the drive so we could park in the shade and enjoy more privacy. Jim was very motivated to get this accomplished so he got the main drive cleared in just a couple days. He then ran the power underground to the site and set a new power post. As you can see, we are now parked comfortably under the pines.

We originally planned to build a deck but decided on a patio instead. The patio didn’t require a building permit from the county like the deck would have and it turned out to be a bit cheaper. It also is hardly even noticeable when we are not here, which we like. And if we change our mind about how we want camp set up the patio could be disassembled and reassembled in a different spot.

After clearing away some of the unattractive brush at the front of the property we wanted to plant something that would provide us privacy in a few years. The conditions here are ideal for growing azaleas so we planted 6 of them in varying colors across the front. They don’t lose their leaves here so they will provide privacy all year and hopefully we’ll have beautiful blooms each spring. These varieties should eventually get 5-8 feet in height. This cutie hasn’t stopped blooming since we planted her.

They will get morning sun and afternoon shade which should be ideal. I figure there is a 50/50 chance they can survive the summer under these conditions without watering. They were fairly inexpensive so we thought it was worth the gamble. I may offer the neighbor some money to water them if they have any periods of prolonged drought this summer. I also planted an azalea and some hostas near the patio.

Speaking of neighbors, we have some pretty good ones. The subdivision is a few miles from the interstate and town and it has about 10 homes in it. At least half are manufactured homes. A couple of bachelors live next door. Their drive is right on our property line so we can hear them come and go and they can hear us if we are outside. They have stopped by when we were working in the yard a couple times to ask if we need anything.

Across the road is a vacant, overgrown lot, which screens us from many of the neighbors. On the other side of us a couple owns several acres and they built their home way on the other end. We met them the first time we visited. The other neighbors waive if we walk around the block or they drive by but no one has bothered us or indicated we are bothering them.

Some day we may build a carport and/or put in a well and septic. For now we want to explore nearby a few days every week so we just dump and refill when we do. If we want to stay for longer than that we can take a quick trip to a campground just a few miles away. They want $26 to dump our tanks and refill our water which is a bit high (it’s the same price as one night’s camping fee) but you can’t beat the convenience so we will likely use it occasionally.

The money we are saving is helping offset the cost of the improvements we are making. Our electric bill has averaged less than $3 per day so far but as it gets hotter and we run the AC more I expect it will be closer to $5. We are still paying camping fees somewhere most weeks and most of those places cost well over the $20 per night we budget. On average we are spending about half our weekly campground budget on these trips. But we are also saving a lot in fuel while we are here so we will just wait and see how it all pans out.

I was concerned that moving in to the middle of a forest that has never been developed would result in a lot of meetings with creepy crawly things. So far nothing more than an occasional ant has invaded our home. We haven’t seen a single snake but have seen a cute little lizard or two. This guy was on our gas can.

We set up our screen room which has helped with the mosquitos in the early morning and late afternoon. The closest thing to an invasion we have encountered is a whole lot of caterpillars. Jim found this beauty on the screen room one day.

And this little fellow kept me company on my camp chair one afternoon.

So far South Carolina has lived up to its slogan; Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places. We love it here!

Drinking Water

I realize drinking water may seem like a boring subject to choose. However, finding water that is safe to drink is an extremely important topic and one that I couldn’t find any info on before we hit the road. After traveling more than a year and visiting about half the states in the country I feel we have enough experience to share our observations and opinions on the matter. And I wanted to share them in case anyone considering this lifestyle was interested.

When we started traveling I wondered if we would be able to reliably find good drinking water or whether we would have to buy it. We decided to start by trying to drink the local water and see what happened. I hated the idea of buying all our drinking water. The cost was one reason but, more importantly, consuming a product that requires that much packaging galled me. It certainly is not the most environmentally conscious thing to do.

We have a filter on the outside of our rig that we generally put all the water through that we use in camp or fill up our tank with.

We then have a separate spigot on our sink that runs the water we intend to drink through another filter. We discovered that if we ran water through both of these filters we rarely found the taste or smell to be objectionable. And it makes it even more palpable to us if we refrigerated it before drinking it.

The first month on the road went well. We didn’t have any issues with the local drinking water we encountered. Then we went to Big Bend National Park. A couple days in to our visit and we started experiencing some mild intestinal issues. We recognized that it was most likely the water but we were literally in the middle of nowhere so we couldn’t run to the grocery store for several gallons of water.

We completed our stay by drinking the individually bottled water we keep on hand. We also drank our supply of Gatorade and boiled some water for coffee and ice. We chalked this first experience up to being near the border and once our stomachs were back to normal we went back to drinking the local water with a few additional precautions.

We started buying several gallons of water for insurance any time we were heading out into the boonies. We also kept a close watch for symptoms and would switch to bottled water at the drop of a hat if we suspected a problem. And we made a point of trying to fill our tank with municipally treated water when available.

We continued on this way for most of the year drinking local water about 75% of the time. That is until we reached southern California. We got pretty sick while we were in Palm Springs and spent the better part of a week under the weather.

We thought maybe it was something else because we were pretty sure that the campground had treated water. We could see the municipal water tower from our site. But we switched to bottled water to be safe and started feeling somewhat better. Jim finally convinced me to use bottled water even to brush my teeth (like we do in Mexico!) and we finally got over it.

Before we left I went by the camp’s guard shack and asked if the campground’s water was treated water. It turns out that half the campground, the 50 amp side that I presume is newer, is on a municipal water source. The 30 amp side was on a well. The guard reassured me that it was tested regularly and safe to drink.

From my experience, just because a water source meets the minimal guidelines for safety, it doesn’t mean that everything in it is going to agree with your gut. There is also the issue that bacteria can live in the pipes. If the water is chlorinated then those pipes are constantly sanitized. With well water they are not! So they may have tested the water at its source but that does not mean that by the time it got to my campsite it was safe.

After that experience, we chose to buy bottled water for some time. We decided the cost just wasn’t worth losing a week to a stomach bug. I appeased my consumer’s guilt by buying gallon jugs and refilling them about three times at vending machines before being very particular about making sure they got to a recycling center.

In the southwest it seemed there was a bottle refilling station on practically every corner. I’m sure this is indicative of how big an issue they have getting safe water from their pipes. In the east it has been a little harder to find them but most every Walmart has one inside the store. I have paid from 25 up to 37 cents per gallon for refills.

I am on the lookout for a reusable container that would hold a gallon of water. But the gallon water jugs work really well in my little frig and I haven’t found another option that will fit, let alone hold up to travel. If you know of a better solution please share.

Now that we are on the east coast we have started cautiously trusting local water again and so far have not experienced any issues. When we do return to the southwest we won’t take any chances. We will likely buy all our water when we are in west Texas or southern Arizona and California.

Our motto is “better safe than sorry” when it comes to drinking water. We have to put our health first and our concerns about cost and the environment second.

The Sunshine State

Destin to Jacksonville, Florida – March, 2016 We were excited to get to Florida and the beaches we love. Our first choice would have been to stay in Pensacola where we have visited many times. But it was spring break season and our campground of choice was booked solid. We were actually quite lucky to get a site for two nights at Henderson Beach State Park in Destin ($37 p/n full hookups).

What a beautiful place. We had never visited Destin before but we will be back. The beach was just stunning! It didn’t hurt that on the day of our arrival the water was as smooth as glass and you could see way out into it.

I couldn’t wait to take my camera out the next day and try to capture the beauty. But the next morning the wind whipped up and the remainder of our stay the surf was rough. It was still pretty but just not the same.

The beach was about a half mile walk from our campsite down a long, twisty boardwalk.

The park’s section of the beach was not very crowded but if you walked in either direction you would come to more developed sections of the beach and the spring break crowds. Some kids feeding the sea gulls made them much more cooperative photo subjects than usual.

There were lots of cute little lizards. This one was quite colorful.

When we first arrived I was a little put off by the number of large bees buzzing around. But they never bothered us and I finally became obsessed with getting a picture of one. They really do not make very good models. But out of about 50 shots I finally got one where the little bugger is more than just a blur. He didn’t pose in front a very attractive background though.

This furry little fellow was obviously very used to being fed. He was sitting on our steps the first day when we returned from the beach. Another time he was making himself at home in our chair.

Jim was sitting outside our last afternoon and I heard him intermittently talking to someone. I thought he was chatting up the neighbor and I guess he was. Mr. Squirrel kept coming closer and closer to him the more he talked and seemed happy to have his picture taken.

We would have loved to stay longer but there were no sites available so we decided instead to head to the Atlantic. That was too far to drive in one day so we stopped outside Tallahassee. We stayed at Ingram’s Marina and Campground on the banks of Lake Talquin.

As are most marina campgrounds we’ve visited, this one was a bit rustic and disorganized. But you get what you pay for and this was a steal at $13 for water and electric Passport America. Our site was level enough we didn’t have to unhook the truck, which was great as we planned to stay one night and get on the road early the next day.

We walked around the area and visited the lake in several spots. The guy that checked us in said if we went out on the lake we’d see plenty of alligators along the shoreline once we got away from the marina. I’m still very much on the fence about kayaking in gator infested waters but I will probably get over that the more time we spend in the south. I did enjoy spotting this cute little fellow near the boat docks.

He was no more than 2 feet long and he stayed there the whole afternoon.

Next up was Jacksonville. Someone I had met somewhere in our travels said the Jacksonville City Campground was one of their favorite places to stay so I made a reservation based on that with very little research. I later realized there are two city campgrounds and I believe she was referring to the other one.

We did enjoy our stay at Huguenot City Park ($22 p/n no hookups) so it worked out for the best. Here is our site which backed up to the St. John’s River.

It was cool to look up and see these huge ships glide past. That path brought us to a fairly deserted beach.

The beach was much wider than this at low tide and almost nonexistent at high tide. Across the river you can see the Mayport Naval Air Station. They flew helicopters over the park all day and as late as 10 pm one night. It was a little loud but the lady at check-in remarked that the number of flights had been unusually high that week.

It was about a mile from our campsite to the end of the peninsula and a beach on the Atlantic. You could drive out onto the beach and many day visitors came out with their families. It was a nice destination to walk to but didn’t have anything on our private section of beach a few feet from our door.

On one of our morning walks we could clearly hear reveille being played over the air station’s loudspeakers followed by the national anthem. At the same time we looked up and spotted a bald eagle of all things on a nearby platform. Of course, it was the one walk I didn’t take my camera on and he was a pretty good distance away.

That’s ok, this bird was begging to be famous.

Across the road from the campground was the entrance to the Kingsley Plantation. It was built in 1897 and is the oldest surviving plantation house in the state.

It was a very interesting place to walk around with tons of information, mostly on slavery. Here are the remains of the slave quarters.

Another interesting place in Jacksonville was Fort Caroline. It was a 20 mile drive from camp. It is a re-creation of a fort built by the French in the 1600’s.

They built it to one third the scale that they estimate the original was. There is lots of great history here about the colonization of Florida, the struggles of those colonists, and about the battles that took place here.

Both the Kingsley Plantation and Fort Caroline are part of the Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve which has a lot more to offer including tons of trails. The entire preserve is free to the public. We will definitely visit more of it when we pass this way again.

Reflections on a Year Well Spent

Ajo, AZ to Kingsville, TX – January, 2016 The passing of the calendar year coupled with the one year anniversary of us hitting the road is a logical time to reflect on our expectations, realities, and what’s next.

We have been incredibly pleased with our first year on the road. It is everything we had hoped for and more. Any minor concerns we had have virtually vanished. Do we feel safe boondocking in remote locations? Yes. Can we really live on this budget? Yes. Are we gonna strangle each other if we spend every waking moment together and live in less than 400 square feet? Not yet!

Many of our goals revolved around our health. Together we lost over 40 pounds this year. More importantly we are stronger and the aches and pains I feared might worsen with exercise have instead improved.

We try, and generally succeed, at walking no less than 3 miles every single day. But are we ready to tackle mountains? Not yet. Have our eating habits changed? Not significantly.

We nicknamed this first year “The Highlight Tour.” We endeavored to see all the sights out west that we had not yet seen that we would be really disappointed if we never made it to. Many destinations we cheerfully checked off our bucket list. Others were checked and then moved to the growing list of places we plan to return to for a longer visit in the in the years to come. A small few we just didn’t get to but they got moved to the list of places we’ll see on another western roadtrip, hopefully in 2017.

The west was so much more than we expected. Arizona was more mountainous, southern California was greener, everywhere people were friendlier than we ever imagined. Our expectations were surpassed at every turn. But the southwest just wasn’t warm enough for us to want to spend a whole winter.

We experienced several weeks of nighttime lows in the 20s and 30s. It got chilly very quickly in the late afternoon and it often took until almost lunch for it to warm up in the morning. That’s too many hours that we are stuck in the camper staying warm instead of outside being active. We certainly plan to spend a lot more time in the southwest but we will go further south, hopefully to Mexico, for the coldest months of the year.

Since we had committed months ago to being in Houston by mid-February and that was still four weeks away, we decided we were ready to move it on over to Texas. Last year when we were at Padre Island National Seashore we had been too excited about heading west to explore any further south in Texas. So now we wanted to go as far south as we could in Texas to spend a couple weeks before going to Houston as planned.

We had just boondocked for seven days so we stopped in Benson, Arizona at the Escapees Saguaro Co-op for a couple nights to dump our tanks, fill up on water, and recharge our batteries. We loved this park when we passed through last spring. They charge $20 per night plus electric which after taxes averaged out to $27.50 per night. It is a friendly park, convenient, and has one of the cleanest and least expensive laundromats I’d found all year. I was behind on my laundry so this appealed to me.

I was looking forward to making our next stop a winery a couple hours east of Benson. The St. Clair Winery just off I-10 east of Deming, New Mexico, participates in the Harvest Host program which allows RVs to stay at farms and wineries for one night. I joined the program and used it to stay at Tularosa Vineyards near Alamogordo, New Mexico last spring. I had heard about the St. Clair Winery shortly after we had passed that way and was disappointed we had missed it.

I read that you could fill your own containers at this winery with very reasonably priced wine. I couldn’t believe I had missed such a gem! We actually decided to travel further that day but I insisted we stop anyway. This place was awesome! Unfortunately this past year they stopped letting you bring your own containers. Instead you have to buy their container and then you can bring it back as many times as you like.

The prices were still great and the wine was too. They will sell you a filled magnum, the equivalent of 2 bottles of wine, for about $10 and if you bring their bottle back they will refill it for around $6. I loved their sweet white and sweet red. It is probably for the best that I don’t live nearby.

We generally prefer to travel no more than 2-3 hours a day but Jim said he was willing to put in some longer days in order to reach southern Texas’ warmer temperatures. So we passed up staying at the winery in sweet bliss and instead set our sights on the other side of El Paso. After a late start and too short a stop at St. Clair’s we were slated to arrive late on a Friday afternoon.

I kept reading references to bad traffic conditions on I-10 in El Paso and was not terribly excited about heading into that late on a Friday afternoon. So when I mentioned that the Texas Welcome Center at Exit 1, a good 15 miles north of El Paso, had good overnight RV parking Jim agreed that it wouldn’t hurt to stop by on our way through and see if it would suffice for the night.

We had not yet spent a night in a rest area even though Texas has some rather nice ones and 24 hours of parking is allowed at each. The problem is that they are generally very close to the highway and, more importantly, you have no idea how many semis might join you before morning. Semis are rather noisy and not our first choice for neighbors.

The nice thing about this welcome center was that it was set back a fairly good distance from the highway and there were three parking lots; one for cars, one for RV’s, and one for semi-trucks.

We arrived before 3 and were the only ones parked in the RV lot so we took the only spot that had a yard.

We walked in to talk to the folks in the welcome center. They were very friendly and, well, welcoming. So we put out our slides and made ourselves at home. We walked around the parking lot and next door to an RV dealer. Then we made some dinner and watched TV. It turned out to be quieter than some RV parks we’ve stayed at.

When we awoke in the morning one pickup truck camper had joined us in the RV lot and a dozen semis had stopped in their lot. Surprisingly a couple motorhomes had chosen to stop in the semi lot. Weird! We were pretty pleased with our free camping location especially since we had gotten a good night’s sleep and saved $40 on the campground we planned to stop at.

We got a very early start the next day and drove about 450 miles to Junction, Texas. I had read about a city park in Junction that had free camping and all the reviews were good. We decided to drive through and if we didn’t like what we saw we could head over to one of the town’s RV parks. We expected a large gravel parking lot but what we got was amazing. The park was spread out near a small dam. There was a motorhome parked along the lakeshore and we nabbed a spot at the other end of the park below the dam. This was the view out our front door.

There was plenty of room for lots of other rigs but it was just the two of us on a Saturday night. I imagine it is a very popular place in the warmer months.

We got going the next morning intending to make it all the way to our destination about 6 hours away. But when we ran into construction on Highway 77 near Kingsville we agreed we had had enough driving and that this was close enough. I found us a campground on the nearby Baffin Bay for a couple nights and that is where we began the south Texas portion of our journey.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Ajo, AZ – January, 2016 Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was the last item on my list of must see places in Arizona for this go around. I wanted to see it primarily because my father said my late mother had loved it there. It isn’t really on the way to anywhere and I was tempted to save it for another visit. I am so glad we did not as we enjoyed the area immensely. We decided to spend two nights and one full day exploring there.

We started the day visiting the town of Ajo. I wasn’t expecting much of the town so I was pleasantly surprised. It was a rather large mining town until the mine shut down in the 1980’s. What remains is a town of around 1,800 people and some rather impressive buildings. This was their school during the town’s heyday. It has since been renovated to house artists.

They also have a town plaza, some pretty churches, and lots of cute homes. The town has an obvious artistic bent. We spent a pleasant couple of hours walking the town and then driving a scenic loop around it. It was a lovely drive, but all the drives in the area are scenic. We just love the craggily mountains here.

After a morning exploring Ajo we returned home for lunch and then made the 25 mile drive south to Organ Pipe. The afternoon was a perfect 75 degrees and sunny.

We checked out the visitor center first then made a short drive to the head of the Desert View Trail. We wanted to stretch our legs and this trail was a nice 1 and a quarter miles up and over a hill. It had some nice views and the largest concentration of Organ Pipe Cacti we saw all day.

After our walk we didn’t mind getting back in the truck again. This is a very large park so the choice was primarily which scenic drive did we want to make. Since it was already 1 pm we chose the 21 mile Ajo Mountain Scenic Loop. It was a good choice. The views were spectacular, especially during the trip in.

We stopped about halfway at the Arch Canyon viewpoint.

We decided to take the Arch Canyon Trail which was said to have good views of the arch and was supposed to be 1.2 miles out and back. It turns out the best views of the arch were from the trailhead and at 0.6 miles when you’d expect to be at the end of the trail it was really just the beginning of a climb up the rocks that appeared to promise a good view of the back of the arch but never delivered.

You could see a tantalizing small part of the arch and it seemed certain that if you climbed higher the view would appear. Just a little farther we told ourselves, as soon as we get to the other side of this boulder it will materialize. We climbed another half mile and the view never improved. We finally turned around. It is a great hike, and even a fun climb, as long as you don’t expect anything more.

It was a long and rewarding day. This area could easily keep us entertained for a week or more when we return some day.

We boondocked outside Why, Arizona, at Gunsight Wash BLM area which I found on freecamping.net. It is free with a 14 day stay limit. We pulled in on a Monday afternoon and saw around two dozen rigs while we were there. They were fairly spread out. We found a place pretty far in with a lot of space between us and our nearest neighbors.

There are supposedly two roads into the area but really there are a hundred paths in and around the small shrubs that cover the area and it is impossible to tell which is the main one. We broke the handle on our dump tank while maneuvering through one tight spot. It’s not too bad just a little confusing but if you have a large motorhome, or a new rig you don’t want to scratch, I’d recommend staying near the entrance.

We awoke to a cacophony of coyotes each morning. And they continued to serenade us throughout our morning coffee. Other than that the area was incredibly quiet and had the most amazing sunsets!